Governments are failing to properly regulate nanotechnology according to a hard-hitting new report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Despite early warnings of the damage some nanomaterials could cause, governments are still reacting too slowly to signs of potentially deadly environmental hazards. This has prompted claims that they have failed to heed the lessons from millions of asbestos deaths.

The report has found that governments are “paralysed by analysis” and failing to act: “Twenty years have elapsed since first indications of nanomaterial harm were published”, it found, “and in the intervening time an increasing body of literature has been developed on how nanomaterials interact with cells, mammals and aquatic organisms. Yet many governments still call for more information as a substitute for action.”

The Late lessons from early warnings report is the second of its type produced by the EEA. The case studies cover a diverse range of chemical and technological innovations, and highlight a number of systemic problems. The ‘Late Lessons Project’ illustrates how damaging and costly the misuse or neglect of the precautionary principle can be, using case studies and a synthesis of the lessons to be learned and applied to maximising innovations whilst minimising harms.